Archive for February, 2013


One mom’s reason for keeping an Oscar-free home

Categories: Fighting the Stereotype


I’ve never been a huge fan of awards shows. When I was a kid I found them excruciatingly lengthy and boring (the same reaction I have always had to televised parades), and as an adult I’m usually lost after the first five minutes. I recognize only a small number of the actors, directors and other industry professionals, and have usually seen only a handful of the films that will be honored during the show. The combination of this awards-show aversion, plus our family’s Roku-only lifestyle, meant that there were no Oscars in my living room last night. But I’ve found myself wondering, as I read some of the post-Oscar reactions and commentary today, how my girls would have reacted to the awards, and what they would have learned about the way our culture reveres beauty over almost everything else.

Are awards shows inherently bad for kids to watch? Probably not. But I think the danger with the entertainment industry is that these types of events perfectly illustrate the value our society places on beauty, and how it blatantly outweighs, almost without exception, the value we place on skill, natural talent, and effort.

This being said, I do acknowledge that my lack of experience with awards shows such as the Oscars doesn’t put me in the best position to judge their merits. So I invite you, fellow moms, to share your thoughts on the subject. Did you watch the Oscars with your children? If so, I’m curious: What values, if any, do you feel your children learned from the awards? How did you discuss these values with your kids?

If you did not watch the Oscars with your children, why not?

I look forward to your comments!

5 reasons to keep birthday parties simple

Categories: Best Practices, Missing Parent

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At some point after the divorce, it became my ex’s job to plan and host the girls’ birthday parties, even if their birthdays didn’t fall on “his” weekend. Since he makes about one frillion times more money than I do, it was easier for him to bring their elaborate birthday fantasies to life and throw some truly amazing parties. I loved that he wanted to be involved in these celebrations, so this arrangement worked well for all of us for several years.

This year, however, he was going to be out of town during Eldest’s birthday week, so it fell to me to plan, host and bankroll her 11th birthday party. We decided to have a low-key sleepover party with just three friends from school, followed by a girls-only breakfast at a local crêperie and a couple of hours to explore the Seattle waterfront. Not only was the party an enormous success, but I was reminded of how much I love simple birthday parties.

Here’s why:

1. There is more than one way to show your kid that you care. While expensive party venues, designer cakes and copious amounts of presents are one way to celebrate your child on their birthday, they aren’t the only way. Spending quality time together and simply taking a day to let your kid know how glad you are that they were born doesn’t require having a big chunk of disposable income, and it can be meaningful for both of you regardless of the budget.
2. It’s important to slow down. Our day-to-day lives are fast-paced, stressful and chock full of activities, and our poor kiddos are dragged along for the ride. It’s necessary to take a step back from the craziness once in awhile and give our kids a chance to just be. Sometimes it’s the quiet moments, and not the forced excitement of activity after activity, when the best memories are made.
3. The “value” should come from the guests, not the party. I want my children to learn that it’s the people in their lives who matter, not whether or not they got to hang out at the latest trendy birthday party spot for two hours on a Saturday.
4. Getting creative together opens the door for a deeper relationship with your child. When was the last time you sat down to collaborate with your child on, well, anything? We tell them how to clear the table, when to clean their rooms, which homework questions to fix and when it’s time to leave, but we so rarely get to learn more about how they see the world. Planning a creative party together can be such a wonderful bonding experience with your growing kiddo, and gives you both an opportunity to see each other differently, even for just a few moments.
5. Everything can be an adventure. I think it’s easy to forget that our children (with their PS3s and iPhones and laptops and all the other spoils of our modern lives) are just as capable as any generation of children to turn a stick into a magic wand or a tree into an enchanted castle. Their imaginations are wonderful and powerful and aching to be given a chance to run wild.

As soon as each of Eldest’s three guests arrived home after the party, I started receiving phone calls and text messages from their mothers telling me what a fantastic time their daughters had.

“She loved visiting the gum wall!

“She can’t stop talking about watching the parrot do tricks at the market!”

“I haven’t seen her smile this much in a long time.”

The girls had a great day exploring and chatting and just having a chance to be themselves. And I was lucky enough to experience this day with them, learning more about my daughter and her beautiful friends with each perfect, unstructured moment. We’ll all remember this day fondly for a long, long time.

Parenting a bullied child (cue the nausea and rage)

Categories: Daycare Doldrums, Trying to figure it all out


For the past few years, Eldest Daughter has been struggling with a couple of “mean girls” at school. It’s a tricky situation: one of the girls (let’s call her Stacey) has been an on again, off again friend since Kindergarten. Although they are not in the same class this year, they see each other at lunch, recess and almost every after-school activity. When things are good between them, they are very, very good. They enjoy each other’s company and have fun together. But when things are bad they are nasty. Stacey has the manipulative prowess of a woman four times her age, and although I would like to say that I love all of God’s children and would never think to question the innocence of a fifth grade girl, I admit that there have been several times I’ve wondered whether or not everyone would be better off were this horrid little beast packaged up and mailed to Siberia.

Due to the many hours they are together at school each week, Eldest believes that life is easiest if she can keep the peace. She has resigned herself to keeping Stacey happy, because when she is happy she is less cruel. As you can imagine, this leaves me feeling angry and powerless and just plain heartbroken for my sweet, generous child. The adults at her school are aware of the situation but have been reluctant to get involved because, like any seasoned bully, Stacey is on her best behavior around teachers and staff. She saves her most terrible, cutting words for times the girls are out of earshot, so no adult has ever witnessed any of this behavior.

Until recently, my ex-husband and I have focused on giving our daughter tools to deal with Stacey on her own. We talk through the things that happen and how they make her feel, and then we talk through possible ways to respond. We ply her with encouraging words and tell her how proud we are that she is too kind-hearted to lash out at Stacey, but that it’s not her job to keep this girl happy. It’s her job to be a kid, have fun at school, and stand up for herself when necessary. Usually these conversations seem to help. But last week she stopped being able to sleep at her dad’s house. She said her mind was too full; she was stressed and overwhelmed and dreaded seeing Stacey at after-school care. So we decided it was time to talk to her teacher.

It turns out that Eldest isn’t the only girl in her class who has been victimized by Stacey, and Eldest’s teacher was livid. “No one treats my girls this way,” she told me (bless her), and vowed to do something about it. But I was, and continue to be, very torn. On one hand, I’m incredibly relieved that Eldest has an advocate at school, an adult who is willing to help keep her safe. But on the other hand, we are all too familiar with the skill and secrecy Stacey uses against her victims. She holds grudges. She is very, very patient. And she does not hesitate to strike the moment an adult isn’t watching. If she finds out that Eldest’s “tattling” was in any way related to whatever consequences this teacher finds appropriate, Eldest’s life will be a living hell. And god help us, we haven’t even reached middle school.

What can I do? How can I help my child? Oh, how I wish for the relative simplicity of boys. I wish Eldest could just pummel this girl, assert her confidence and dominance, and be done with it. But the spider web that is the female social hierarchy is so wicked and complex; even as a relatively well-adjusted adult, I find this system nearly impossible to navigate. It kills me that my beautiful girl is suffering at the hands of another kid. If I could, I would keep her by my side always and protect her from everything painful and awful in this world. But parenthood is never that easy. And she will inevitably get hurt. This is the horrible truth that no one tells you when they hand you your wrinkled newborn for the first time, her skin still wet from your womb. You cannot protect her from everything. The only thing you can do is love her, fiercely, through it all. And if you’re lucky, that will help.

A pledge to my 40 year old self

Categories: Tentative Steps


I turned 30 this weekend, quietly and without fanfare. Rather than the laughing, sparkling gathering I had imagined, full of lovely friends and wonderful food and witty, heartfelt toasts, I spent the weekend at home with a feverish child and a cat who nibbled on my birthday bouquet then promptly vomited all over the kitchen floor. It was nothing like I had imagined it would be; but then again, nothing ever has been.

Ten years ago I was married with an infant daughter. We had recently purchased our first home, a nondescript beige box perched at the top of a ridge, overlooking a fertile farming valley. In the mornings, when our baby girl woke early with bright eyes and an enormous gummy smile, I’d dress her for the day and gaze out the window at the green pastures far below. I tried to imagine who she would grow up to be and I would picture her childhood that was stretched out before us, ripe with potential. The possibility of divorce, of single parenthood, never once occurred to me. I had no idea that within five years her father and I would no longer live together, that I would struggle to make a life on my own for her and her little sister.

Not only did my 20s turn out completely differently than I had expected, the “surprises” that decade brought were so thoroughly catastrophic that the woman who emerged from them would be wholly unrecognizable to the one who held that little baby and watched the tiny dots of cows grazing far below. So what, then, can I expect from this next decade? It may be safer to avoid this topic altogether.

Rather than set expectations, or even imagine the details of the next ten years, I have decided to make a pledge to the woman I will be at 40. I know that whoever she is, she will be stronger and wiser and much, much sexier than the woman I am today, and I know it will take some serious living to become her. So for the next ten years, with her in mind, I pledge to do the following:

I will be more forgiving of my failures. I know that these very failures are what will ultimately make me strong. As Leonard Cohen says, “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

I will actively seek peace. Peace in my community, peace in my workplace, peace in my home, and peace within myself. Remember what the poet Rumi says: “What you seek is seeking you.”

I will not fight the changes. But I will also remember these wise words from the lionhearted Maya Angelou: “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.”

I will love. In my words I will love, in my actions I will love, in my decisions I will love and in my thoughts (the most difficult of all) I will love. And when this is so difficult to do that it seems impossible to go on, I will remember what Anne Lamott’s Jesuit friend Tom says: “Left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe.” And then, “Right foot, left foot, right foot, breathe.”

Ten years from now, when I look back at the woman who wrote this piece, I know I will love her more than I do today. I will see that she was bravely forging ahead, tackling life with dignity and grace, even though it felt like stumbling at the time. I trust in my capacity to grow and evolve, and I trust in the woman I will become. I just have to make sure I give her room to show up.

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